Associates in a strategic planning sessionAround this time of year, businesses begin their annual strategic planning process for the next year. It’s typically a big deal for companies and their marketing partners alike, because it should set out the road map and the key initiatives that need to be accomplished.

But how well these sessions go depends a lot upon how well they are planned, and if the timing is right. You have to have a plan to have a plan. Without some critical inputs, delivering an integrated, smart, and compelling marketing plan is a much more difficult task.

As an agency partner to our clients, we recognize that marketing planning is part of an overall business plan, and marketing isn’t the center of the universe (awwww). But, there are certain things we agencies need in order to do our best work and provide great counsel and ideas. And we look to our clients to come to the table with a plan for the plan we are asked to create.

Here’s our checklist of important inputs we need to deliver our best work.

What are you trying to accomplish?

This seems obvious, but setting and communicating specific objectives is important. Are you trying to raise awareness or generate leads? How much do you need to grow sales in a particular product line or market? What audiences do you need to support or connect with — internally, among dealers or distributors, customers, influencers, or others?

Having the context for how the marketing efforts intersect with or support other areas of the business (like sales) is useful, as is understanding why these are important. As curious and creative people, we at marketing agencies like to know “why.”

When do marketing efforts need to happen?

Annual  planning shows that marketing efforts should take place throughout the year, but sometimes that is not the case.

Key trade shows or events may need support at different times of the year. Creating content to feed a blog or social channels will be published regularly. Big product launches may happen sporadically. Maybe the marketing team has a sense that budgets could be cut later in the year and wants to front-load activities, or reserve budget for unexpected requests.

Understanding the timing and expectations of when marketing efforts need to be visible will help your agency manage the marketing cadence each year.

How much money do we have?

The available budget is always the crucial part of the marketing plan. It helps everyone understand if we can meet what we are trying to accomplish.

Sometimes all the details or exact amounts aren’t known during planning time, but agencies at least need to be in the right ballpark. We don’t want to spend time (and money) coming up with ideas that won’t fit into your budget — that’s not working smart or being good stewards of the budget. And often, difficult decisions or some priorities will need to be made if our means exceed our needs.

Who’s doing what?

Having a clear understanding of who is responsible for doing what is key to operationalize the plan. Who needs to collaborate to develop the plan? Who is making decisions on what stays or goes? (You will likely have more great marketing communications ideas than you can afford.) What will be tackled internally and what will agency partners do? How will they work together?

Many businesses work with multiple agency partners. With the marketing world becoming more interconnected, collaboration and role clarity are needed to develop strong marketing programs.

What is a “must” or what has already been committed?

Knowing upfront if something has to be done, or if part of the budget has already been committed, helps determine what’s left for new ideas or programs.

How do we know if we’ve succeeded?

Knowing the end game and how we will measure success is important. If your organization is “keeping score” with the number of leads generated, then the marketing needs to be designed to measure leads. If it’s pure awareness you’re after, then perhaps impressions are good enough to measure. What you are measuring needs to tie to what you are trying to accomplish.

WWWWWH?

Who? What? When? Where? Why? How much? Those are big questions, but answering them is critical when kicking off a planning engagement.

Not only do agencies like to ask those questions, we need to find those answers to have a good planning meeting. These are the foundational areas that enable a great marketing plan to be built. The answers focus us, save us time, and enable us to produce great results.

For businesses who are planning the planning meeting, arm your agencies with answers to the above questions. This will lead to a great discussion that isn’t only focused on the basics, but rather what’s possible.

About Patrick McGill

As the managing director of strategy, Patrick is our very own Sherlock Holmes. When he’s not immersed in research, you’ll more than likely find Patrick traveling — those travels have taken him to all 50 states. You can email our inquisitive Mr. McGill at patrickm@2rm.com.